Geneva: The death toll in Syria has risen to more than 2,900 since pro-democracy protests began in March, the United Nations human rights office said on Thursday as activists warned that the country could descend into armed conflict.
"Based on our detailed list of individual names that we have been keeping, the total number of people killed in Syria since protests began now stands at more than 2,900," Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.
The United Nations` previous death toll was 2,700 from the bloody crackdown by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which generally denies reports of human rights abuses and says it has no choice but to restore law and order.
Colville noted that the latest figure did not include those who have disappeared and whose fate is unknown.
On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council is to review Syria`s record, part of its regular examination of all UN member states. The United States and other Western countries are expected to denounce what they say are atrocities by Syria.
The Geneva forum last month launched an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity which a preliminary UN investigation said were being perpetrated by Syrian security forces.
Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian heading the new three-member investigation, was to meet a high-level Syrian delegation in Geneva this week to seek permission to enter the country. The team, which plans to gather testimony in the region, is due to issue a report by the end of November.
"Detention centres a nightmare"
Radwan Ziadeh, an exiled Syrian activist, said on Thursday that more than 30,000 Syrians had been imprisoned since protests began, many in schools or soccer fields converted into detention centers.
"Mass killings continue," he told a discussion on torture in Syria. "Detention centers are a nightmare for Syrians now."
His businessman brother Yassin and four other members of his family are among those being detained, Ziadeh said.
His Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies had documented the deaths of 183 children at the hands of Syrian forces, many under torture, as well as 18 cases of rape in Homs, he said.
"Child of Syria," a film produced by the center and shown for the first time in Geneva, told the tale of Thamer al Sharei, a 15-year-old boy from the southern city of Deraa who disappeared during demonstrations on April 29.
His parents, interviewed after fleeing to Jordan, said they retrieved his battered body from a morgue, riddled with 11 bullet holes and a drill hole in his cheek, two months later.
"If it were not for the childhood scar on his forehead, I never would have recognized him," his father Mohammed says in the film. "They have taken torture to a new level."
"If they are doing this to children, what are they doing to grown-ups?," he asks.
Ibrahim al-Jahaman, identified as a former detainee at Bab Touma prison near Damascus at the time, says in the film: "I think he was in a semi-conscious state, I`m not sure he felt the blows he was getting."
Ziadeh said Syrian forces felt immune from any accountability. He voiced dismay at the U.N. Security Council`s failure to condemn Syria, after China and Russia vetoed a European-drafted resolution on Tuesday.
It was important for the Security Council to ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes by Syrian forces, he said.
"Unfortunately this will encourage more people to radicalize as they see no hope of action by the international community," Ziadeh said.
Jeremie D. Smith, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, also warned of the situation deteriorating further in Syria if world powers failed to act.
"Syria is bound to become more destabilized, more radicalized, if there isn`t any form of hope for these people."